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Monday, January 3, 2011

Malaysian Contingent's Humanitarian Mission In Bamiyan

January 03, 2011 13:10 PM

By Mohd Faizal Hassan

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 (Bernama) -- The 40-member Malaysian Armed
Forces Medical Team's humanitarian mission in Bamiyan, Afghanistan,
provided a different experience for the Malaysian contingent in the volatile
nation.
For the first time members of Malaysian security forces set foot in
Afghanistan following the host government's invitation to a non-NATO
contingent to help its people and redevelop the war-torn state.
The mission was a baptism of fire for the Malaysian Armed Forces that have
earned and enviable reputation in its peace keeping role in Somalia,
Bosnia, Cambodia, Timor Leste, Western Sahara, Namibia and Lebanon.
MALCON ISAF'S HUMANITARIAN ROLE
However, this time it was more of a humanitarian role under the Malaysian
Contingent International Security Assistance Force (MALCON ISAF) where
the contingent provided healthcare and taught the locals on healthcare and
the importance of sanitation.
Seven officers and 33 members of other ranks including seven women were
involved in the interim humanitarian operation with the contingent
stationed in the Bamyan region located in central Afghanistan.
The Malaysian Contingent is working hand-in-hand with the Regional
Redevelopment Team from New Zealand with both teams spending six to
nine months there.
STARTING THE JOURNEY IN TWO CHARLIES
Getting there is a whole new experience.
About 500 friends and relatives of the second group of 30 members
congregated at the Royal Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) grounds in
Subang on 19 Oct to send them off for the mission.
Earlier, the first group of 10-member advance party left on July 16 to get
ready the facilities for the team to operate in Bamiyan.
Two of RMAF's Hercules C-130 aircraft known in the aviation circles as
Charlie ferried the team for the first leg of their 50-hour journey.
The aircraft first headed to Qatar carrying along 18.4 tonnes of necessities
and medical equipment for the tour of duty.
A CHALLENGING ROUTE FROM SUBANG TO AFGANISTAN
An hour after leaving Subang, the planes made a stopover in Maldives
before continuing another five hours to Qatar's Al-Udeid air base which was
once used by the US forces to launch attacks on Iraq.
The stopover here is to request permission to enter Afganistan's airspace
and to switch aircraft as only US operated aircraft is allowed to ferry them
to their final destination.
Nonetheless, the team was quite happy with the cooperation provided by
the Qatar and the American authorities in giving the green light.
After being held up for more 24 hours by the paperwork, changes in the
weather and in switching aircraft, the Malaysian team arrived at Bamiyan
Air Base on 22 Oct at about 11.45 am local time in a US Air Force C130.
Their arrival was greeted by Regional Redevelopment Team's Director Richard Newland and the MALCON ISAF commander Lt Col Norazan Omar.
LIVING FACILITIES LIKE BACK HOME
The three building blocks belonging to the Malaysian team at the New
Zealand's Regional Redevelopment Camp in Bamiyan will serve as the
team's base throughout the duration of their stay there.
Lt Col Norazan Omar said: "This facility is very comfortable and the most
comprehensive in Bamiyan, ready with water, electricity and internet.
The three blocks come complete with living quarters, kitchen, dining hall,
surau, toilets and ofice blocks.
Maj (R) Mohamed Yussof Datuk Tahwil Azar the Managing Director for
Urusan Dwi Makna Sdn Bhd, the company appointed to build the three
blocks, said work on the blocks started on Sept 1 and was completed within
45 days.
The construction work undertaken through Afghan Bamica Construction
Company utilised Malaysian engineering expertise and involved 50 to 80
local workers.
Mohamed Yussof noted that the biggest challenge in the undertaking is
bringing in the equipment as there were no proper roads.
EXTREME WEATHER, TIME DIFFERENCE AND LOCAL CULTURE
As the camp is located 9,200 feet from sea level and Afghanistan faces
severe winter from October to March, the extreme drop in temperature
poses a serious challenge for team members.
Malcon-ISAF's Head of Medical Logistics Maj. Hassan Masro pointed out the
freezing temperature that can reach -40 degree Celsius by mid January
could pose problems to team members.
"All team members are provided with winter clothing and have been trained
mentally and physically to face this challenge," he said.
Nonetheless, the camp's location high above sea level provides a
spectacular panorama of the hilly terrain below including the famous silk
road passing through the foothills that was once used by traders between
Europe and China.
Other than that due to the change in the time zone, there is a five hour
difference between Bamiyan and Malaysia and thus the team have adjust
their bed time, meal times and prayer time for the next six months.
CONSERVATIVE LOCAL CUSTOMS
The team has learned many of the local customs that is far different unlike
back home.
In Bamiyan one of the customs is that the men and women are segregated
in all activities outside home and thus a male doctor can only treat a male
patient and a female doctor can only treat a female patient.
The locals were initially reluctant to approach the Malaysian team members
or to receive treatment at the clinic but after a while they became familiar
with the team.
MALCON ISAF's Medical Officer Maj Dr Mohammad Azim Che Azmi observed
that the locals were ignorant on healthcare and sanitation and they have
been used to living in deplorable condition all this while.
He elaborated that the team is not here to change their ways but to raise
awareness on the importance of personal hygiene.
Another MALCON ISAF Medical Officer Capt (Dr) Ummi Khaltum Mohamed
Taib said it is not going to be easy in changing their ways towards greater
hygiene.
It is very important to keep the hands clean but how to achieve this when
many of the people here rub their hands on rocks to keep themselves
warm.
BAMIYAN CALLS FOR THE WORLD'S ASSISTANCE
The medical team also found that there is a lack of doctors and nurses here
and they have to attend to all the ailments even when the aliments are not
in the area of their specialisation.
Bamiyan with a population of 60,000 lacks maternity nurses,
ophthalmologist, dietitians and general healthcare practitioners and faces
the constant threat of deadly diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and
typhoid.
The medical team also observed that Bamiyan is in serious need of
international help in developing infrastructure like roads and hospitals.
While developing the infrastructure here poses a challenge due to the
elevation and extreme weather, this region is known to the world for its
historical Buddha monuments recognised by UNESCO and thus holds good potential to emerge as a tourism district.
MALAYSIAN HOSPITALITY WELCOMED IN AFGANISTAN
Malaysia's impeccable record in international peacekeeping and
humanitarian mission prompted the Afgan authorities to invite Malaysia to
provide healthcare for its citizens.
Bamiyan's governor Habiba Sarabi said Malaysia's expertise in this field and
the common Islamic background that both nations shared were among the
factors that impressed the Afghan government.
Habiba appreciated Malaysia's acceptance of the offer though the area
where the Malaysian team is stationed lacks clean water, electricity, roads
that are dusty and filled with stones.
He also hoped that Malaysian investors would consider undertaking
development in the district in areas like eco-tourism and food industries.
Bamiyan has many interesting sites to see and also known for its potatoes.
A SUCCESSFUL MISSION
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the
team in Afghanistan would be expanded from 40 to 120 in due course with
a third team joining in.
"We are also in talks with third parties to jointly sponsor the facilities and
the cost in maintaining the team there as the whole exercise is very
costly."
"During the recent courtesy call by the British army general, I asked his
assistance to look for parties that can help share the cost and if possible we
want other Muslim nations like Indonesia and Brunei to join in our mission,"
he said.
MALCON ISAF's mission is no small feat when looking at the challenges that
the team have to face in Afghanistan and at the same time in maintaining
Malaysia sterling record in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in
foreign land.
-- BERNAMA

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